Scotland’s most recently designated city with a rapidly growing population of 60,000, Inverness regards itself as the gateway to the Highlands and is the shopping and business centre to which people come from as far as a hundred miles away. I was there this week; a first visit, and was very impressed with the quiet welcome of the people and the sombre dignity of the buildings. Three women came to my aid when I was looking for places I couldn’t find, and each of them insisted on taking me to where I wanted to be, one of them disabled and in a wheel chair. Visiting an enterprising ‘green’ project devoted to developing and preserving six major ‘green wedges’ in the city(www.greeninverness. com), I came across the proud statement that Inverness is ‘the natural place to be’. It felt like that.
I was staying at an excellent Guest House opposite the rushing River Ness which flows through the centre of the city and gives it so much of its distinctive character. Only seven miles long but unusually wide it gave me a continental feel, with hints of the Seine, the Danube and the Thames.
There are a series of promontories but called ‘islands’ upstream, with lovely country walks and fine trees ( I admired a massive red cedar) which turn the one river into two or three.
I followed the Historic Trail through the city, noting the various buildings and their past and present use. A lot of churches were inlcuded, some of them closed to the public (but not St. Andrews Cathedral which for me had a strangely anonymous feel about it but with a stunning east window) and several altered for different purposes. One of these is now a second hand bookshop with a café on a mezzanine floor and a huge open wood stove surrounded by a comprehensive collection of books. Another onetime church is now the excellent Mustard Seed Restaurant.
Good food and good value I found, with another wood stove at its centre.
I took the Loch Ness tour, the bus driven by a droll Scot who was full of information and local gossip. Part of the tour was a half-hour cruise on the Loch, the day now very overcast and windy but the journey, for which I stood holding on for safety, exhilarating. We then disembarked and visited the derelict but impressive Urquhart Castle, its massive remains brooding over the Loch below. Doubly impressive on this wet and windswept day.Daunting to have actually lived there, and defending your rights of possession to remain.
Inverness’s local city plan is devoted to ‘strengthening its position as the regional capital and promoting its success as a European city’. I needed no persuading.